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Saturday, July 22, 2000

When does a series of nondescript days become a nondescript life? How many missed opportunities are you allowed before you stop getting more chances? How aware of your own shortcomings do you have to be before you get so weighed down with regrets that it seems to define you?

I could have made something out of this day, something more than it turned out to be, anyway. I could have got up early and driven to Shasta to spend the day with the family on the houseboat. I could have driven to the coast, which is a lot closer than the lake, and walked on the beach. I could have driven across town to Howarth Park and hiked up to the Spring Lake lagoon. I could have gone to the free jazz concert at Coddingtown Mall, or to the Rialto to see Hamlet. I could have worked in the yard or swept the driveway or just walked around the neighborhood and seen whatever there was to see.

It must be obvious that I didn't do any of those things today. I slept late and spent most of the day in my lounge chair by the back door, reading Damascus, by Richard Beach. I got up every so often to do some web surfing or watch part of the ballgame. And, of course, I watched Big Brother. (It's a good thing it's not on three hours every night, like the Olympics.)

I walked out the front door exactly twice, and both times I got involved in extended conversations. That's unusual, out here in the country, but when I went out to get my morning paper, my landlord was outside working on the house across the lot. He asked me, sincerely, how things were going, and I didn't want to whine to him about problems with the neighbors, when I haven't found it necessary to complain to the neighbors themselves.

In fact, I said just about that, leaving him to draw the conclusion that there might be a problem. When his partner moves into the house they're working on, he'll hear what I hear, and he'll be able to decide if it's a real problem, one that I have a right to grumble about, or if it's all in my head and I'm just being an old crank about it.

Whenever I talk to him he always seems anxious to hear that something is wrong, although he never seems eager to do anything about it. I pointed the yard out to him and told him that I'd got a price for doing some minor league landscaping. I said that it would cost me too much to do anything about it, hoping that he would ask how much and offer to contribute. He didn't, though. "Oh, well," he said, "it looks okay now. And soon it'll be winter and you won't have the weed problem."

Thanks a lot, Jerry. It looks all right now because Suzanne lugged her mower over here a couple of weeks ago and spent half a day getting things under control, and I've gone over the area with weed killer. It still looks awful, and the weeds are starting to grow back, and I can't afford to have rock put down, as I'd like to do. Do you think I could borrow your mower a couple of times a month, so that it looks just this bad all the time, an no worse? Thanks.

Like I really want to pin my hopes on a short summer and a long winter.

Later, when I walked out to the road to get the mail, I was flagged down by the guy putting in the flooring in that house. He'd been paged and needed to borrow a phone to call in. After he used my phone, I couldn't get rid of him. He was determined to tell me his life story, which frankly wasn't any more interesting than mine.

He makes more money putting down hardwood flooring than carpet, he told me, but the IRS takes too much. He's stopped paying estimated taxes because they haven't refunded his overpayment from two years ago. By the time he's fifty, he wants to quit the business and drive race cars and make two or three million dollars a year. On and on and on.

He kept walking away and then pivoting and coming back, to make one more inane point. It was the longest conversation I've had with anyone in about two weeks, and I said about three words.

So that was my day. Not much of a résumé entry, is it? But it was exactly how I wanted to spend it. I chose to indulge my innate laziness. It was at least partly an active choice. I heard blessed silence from next door for a change and wanted to take advantage. Not many of these days come my way, when it's quiet enough to read almost the whole day.

On the other hand, no compelling alternatives presented themselves. No one called and asked if I wanted to go somewhere, do something. More importantly, no one needed me to do something for them or help them with anything. With no invitations forthcoming, it was up to me to decide what to do. That's when inertia took over. I could have pushed myself to get out the door, but I chose not to. I couldn't live this way all the time without getting stir crazy, but it was a good change of pace.

So is it a wasted day? Am I hopelessly entrenched in this rut? Have I already decided to settle for the life I have, and don't even know it? Was this the day that the monotony of my life reached critical mass? Could it be that by staying in today I missed my one last, best chance?

Nope. I don't believe it. I think that as long as I have a breath left in my body, I still have a chance to make a dream or two a little more real. In fact, I feel so good tonight about what I did and didn't do today that I believe I might have come a little closer to that ideal life, whatever it is.

Besides, how can a day be truly considered lost if it includes an interlude with a flooring contractor who's going to be a NASCAR driver?

But I've got to get out of the house tomorrow . . .

In other news, Hazel has a new friend.

Hazel's on the right.

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I remember thinking I was too far gone
And then you reminded me
That there is no such thing.